Salicylic Acid

Willow bark - source of salicylic acid
Salicylic Acid is naturally derived from the bark of the willow tree.

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid and is often used to treat skin conditions such as acne, body acne, psoriasis, dandruff, seborrhoeic dermatitis, warts and calluses. Its chemical structure is similar (but not identical) to that of aspirin.

This over-the-counter skincare treatment is frequently derived from natural sources (the bark of the willow tree). It can also be made chemically from the amino acid phenylalanine.

The compound has been used throughout history for pain relief and to reduce fevers. It is now widely used as a major skincare ingredient.

How It Works and Uses

Salicylic acid causes skin cells to shed more rapidly (exfoliation), preventing skin pores from clogging up. It penetrates deep into the skin pores and helps clear out trapped oils that builds up around hair follicles. This will help to prevent bacteria from growing in this mixture of excess skin and oil, which could develop into red inflamed blemishes.

Research suggests that salicylic acid helps to decrease inflammation of newly formed blemishes (including whiteheads and blackheads). It is a much safer and gentler treatment for acne than benzoyl-peroxide. Benzoyl-peroxide can dry out skin and cause skin irritation, especially when used for long periods of time.

Since this acid also breaks down the skin protein keratin, excess (thickened) skin can easily be removed after treating with salicylic acid (SA). SA is available in many different strengths (from 0.5% to 30%) and many different forms for use.

The limit for topical treatments (left on the face) is 2% and for acne washes the limit is 3%. Please note that the higher concentrations of salicylic acid are used for treating conditions such as calluses and warts. Acne on the face is treated with much lower concentrations. Salicylic acid cannot be used to treat rosacea.


  • Gets rid of acne (pimples, blackheads and whiteheads
  • Safe to use (even long-term)
  • Anti-bacterial
  • Promotes shedding of skin
  • Blocks oil production
  • Reduces acne scars

Topical treatments containing salicylic acid may be in the form of creams, lotions, ointments, shampoos, body washes, pads, gels and band-aids.

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